New York Architecture Images-Lower East Side

McSorley’s Old Ale House


15 East 7th St. 




McSorley's Old Ale House has been a gathering place, a drinking hole, the subject of art and literature and even a United States supreme court controversy. Everyone from Abe Lincoln to John Lennon have indulged in a "One and One." Woody Guthrie rallied the early American union movement from a table in the back - guitar in hand while constitutional attorneys Faith Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow had to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court to gain access – women finally being allowed entry in 1970! From it's humble origins as an Irish workingman's saloon - cheese and crackers on the house-ale for pennies more, to its discovery by the mainstream in a 1940's LIFE magazine pictorial, McSorley's is steeped in a cultural cacophony of Americana. Presidents, residents, authors and thieves - the lot of humanity has sat and shared, all obeying the McSorley's golden rule "Be Good or Be Gone".

Perhaps the single greatest novelty of McSorley's is that it has served only one beverage in its nearly 150-year history-Ale! "A rich, wax-color" is how author Joseph Mitchell described the McSorley's brew in his 1940 book "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon." And the ale didn't stop pouring during the dark hours of America's prohibition on alcohol either – the operation simply moved from the neighborhood brewery to the basement, where it stayed until prohibition was repealed.

The McSorley's of today differs little from the original. House cats (Minnie and Red) lounge near the coal-burning stove, while deft-handed waiters deliver as many as twenty glasses of ale at a time to thirsty patrons. The small galley in the backroom serves up daily specials as well as McSorley's famous chili, burgers and some of the most reasonably priced sandwiches in the city.

In 1977, Mattie Maher, a native of Kilkenny bought historic McSorley's Old Ale House from then owner Danny Kirwan. At that time Mattie was the Ale Houses' manager and keeping with the spirit and tradition of the storied establishment, he did nothing to change the integrity of America's oldest continuously operated public house.

In 1854, when McSorley's first opened its doors to patrons, it was one of 2400 operating saloons in the city of New York. 147 years later, it is the only one of the lot still serving up dark and light ale to the cities population and the myriad of tourists and visitors who flock to it's East 7th Street address.

Of course, McSorley's has always had a certain sporting vibe. It fielded a baseball team (the McSorley's Nine) for many years and photographs of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and a host of thoroughbred racehorses adorn the walls.

A successful owner of race horses himself; Mattie Maher is no stranger to the sport of hurling. Before immigrating to New York, he played with Freshford and Conahy Shamrocks and was a member of the Kilkenny minor team in 1959. A serious accident put Mattie out of hurling for a considerable length of time but he had succeeded in reviving his playing career before he succumbed to the lure of the bright lights of New York.

Following his arrival in the Big Apple, Mattie played with the Waterford Club for a number and garnered New York Senior and Intermediate Hurling Championship medals.

Despite the distance involved, Maher is immensely proud of the fact that he has missed just one All-Ireland Hurling final since 1952. He has also attended numerous Leinster and Munster Hurling finals in that time.

"The only All-Ireland I missed since '52 was last year's between Kilkenny and Offaly," he says. "I had an operation that day and it wasn't until I came out of surgery that I heard that Kilkenny had won. Hopefully, I'll be back in Croke Park for this year's All-Ireland final."

Mattie rates the current Kilkenny team highly and feels that last year's All-Ireland win was as comprehensive as they come.

"After losing the previous two All-Irelands, I think Kilkenny showed great character to come back and win it last year. They lost an All-Ireland to Cork in 1999 that they should never have lost but recovered from that to win in great style against Offaly. They'll have a difficult job trying to retain the Liam McCarthy this year but if they can play with the same swagger and confidence as last year, it will take a very good team to stop them."

Maher is full of admiration for many of the present Kilkenny team but singles DJ Carey out for special praise. "DJ is the pulse of the whole team - he makes everyone else tick," Mattie claims. "He is an exceptional player and one of the best I've ever seen. It's an awful pity that he wasn't selected on the Team of the Millennium because he is a very special talent."

Down through the years, Mattie has had the pleasure of witnessing many fine hurlers in action. Two of his favorites were Kilkenny men - Denis Heslip and Paddy Moran.

"Denis was as good a hurler as I've ever seen. He was at his peak in the 1950s and 1960s and could literally do anything with a ball. Another hurler who I thought was gifted was Paddy Moran. Unfortunately, neither he or Denis Heslip got the recognition they deserved."

McSorley's Old Ale House is located at 15 East Seventh Street, New York City. (212) 473-9148


But I still rue the day that the U.S. Supreme Court forced McSorley’s Old Ale House to let women hoist pints with men. 

Since 1854, McSorley’s was a “No Women Allowed” place for hard-drinking, tall-tale telling men to quaff “one and ones.” At McSorley’s patrons were served two ales at once. That insured that you wouldn’t run dry and lessened the workload on the barkeeper. 

No woman in her right mind would want to go to McSorley’s. Neighborhood muggings in the Bowery were common. The bloke on the stool next to you may not have bathed since a week ago Saturday. And the house cats were climbing over the taps and the glasses.

Guys loved the place. But, back then, women’s liberation was cresting. When constitutional lawyers Faith Seidenberg and Karen De Crow won their Supreme Court appeal to gain admittance for women, McSorley’s was forever changed.

The pub went down swinging though. On the fateful night that Lucy Kosimar, a National Organization of Women Vice President appeared at the door, manager Dennis Lynch rejected her driver’s license as proof of age and demanded to see her birth certificate.

As Kosimer muscled her way in, the regulars booed and hissed. But it was too late.

Today, depressingly, McSorley’s is a tourist joint. But during my drinking life, McSorley’s was honestly just the best saloon on God’s earth. 

Joe Guzzardi


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